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Workers Compensation: A Fallacy

There are probably many people reading this who know someone or have themselves experienced a workplace injury and WCB’s attitude toward compensating the worker. In fact, the Workers Compensation Board changed their name to WorkSafe BC, to reflect the greater scope of their reach and because they’re known for not compensating workers, or cutting compensation off arbitrarily.

This could all be hearsay but I do have direct experience. I have had to file twice in my life. The first time was for a repetitive stress injury to the soft tissue of my hand (my fingers and hand swelled) due to writing so much in quintuplicate for the movie industry (with one period that consisted of about 30 hours straight). In this first case, WCB did cover treatments but only until they thought I should be better. A known fact about the human body is that people heal at different rates and many other factors come into play. So I had to somehow manage to get better, without affording the therapy while still working.

The second time was perhaps harder to pinpoint but indicates the arbitrary decision making of case workers. I was working inside underneath three air conditioner vents. I have a couple of conditions, the major one being chronic myofascial pain syndrome (MFS). It is similar to fibromyalgia but more treatable. I can be fine for a long time and then experience a relapse brought on by certain conditions. Then I will proceed into a chronic pain cycle, which can take years to get hrough. I can function but am often in pain all the time.

Myofascial pain can be triggered by various events, some of which are: stress, cold, injury. This means, at the onset a person can try to work through the pain with exercise, which can backfire, causing more trigger point cascades. A trigger point is an area on the body that when pressed refers pain to other areas. People with myofascial pain and fibromyalgia have specific spots on their bodies which will be major trigger points. Each person may not demonstrate pain in all of them but may in most of them. A trigger point is often a hard knot. I’m not a medical expert but from what I’ve read it involves muscle tissue and fascia (the thin membrane that covers muscles [like you see on chicken]). A trigger point cascade can occur where one trigger point starts a progression of spasms and knotting that create other trigger points.

At my worst, I was trying to work out and increased the problem unknowingly. I had trigger point cascades down my arms and back, to the point where I could barely hold a fork or chew. That was an extreme episode that I don’t wish to visit again. Overall, my muscles will spasm and knot up and will forget how to release. I had ten years of chronic pain before the combination of the right muscle relaxant (many painkillers and analgesics don’t always work on this type of pain), a massage therapist who understood how to work with trigger points, and about four months of very warm weather which took me out of the chronic stage.

As I’ve mentioned, stress, injury or cold can trigger myofascial pain. Other conditions can be associated with it, such as Reynaud’s syndrome. Reynaud’s is also called red, white and blue because it will be brought on by cold and the vessels in the extremities (fingers and toes) will constrict, causing the limbs to go from red to white to blue as the blood flow is suppressed. People with this condition will experience sharp, knifelike pain and numbness. I have found, when I experience Reynauds, that the only way to bring circulation back to the extremities is to bring up my core temperature.

I have given these two examples here to wind back to workers compensation. The three air conditioner vents that I was sitting under blew a lot of cold air onto my back. I’m more susceptible to cold, but was the only person in my area who was under three vents (no one was under more than one). Because the muscles tightened up, when I moved suddenly, sitting at my desk, I threw out my back. I was a contract worker so I couldn’t really take time off but I filed a claim. I went to the chiropractor a couple of times but couldn’t afford more than that.

Recognizing that this could be another chronic pain onset, I wanted WCB to cover therapy for a couple of weeks. In all, if I had had treatment right away I could have put off the chronic pain. It would have taken probably a month at most, consisting of chiropractic to adjust my back, and massage to keep the muscles from tightening up and pulling my back out again (believe me, I live with this often, muscles pulling my ribs out while I sleep).

My case worker was on holidays so I talked to someone else first. When the case worker came back, he didn’t even talk to me but denied the claim straight out. I wrote back citing the specialist that had originally diagnosed me. I was willing to be examined, get letters from the specialists about the condition and other documentation if needed. I said that the cold of the air conditioning was the problem and the case worker wrote back and said that cold never hurt anyone. Never. Cold.

I wonder what those people feel who suffer frostbite and hypothermia and die of exposure? One of the best ways to get through myofascial pain is to apply heat, along with therapy. This case worker didn’t consult any medical expert but made his own uninformed arbitrary decision. I would have had to go to a new level to fight this, to get the therapy that was now some time from the onset of the injury. And what else causes myofascial pain? Stress. Having already taken ICBC (our provincial car insurance company) to small claims court for not covering the therapy costs of the injury that originally began my relationship with myofascial pain, I knew how stressful that process was (I won, BTW). I didn’t do it and have spent several years getting out of another bout of chronic pain. And of course all the subsequent visits to my doctor for muscle relaxants (trying to find some that work), the few visits to the therapists, and days I take off work when the pain is too much, or for doctor appointments puts more strain on our health care and system. In the long run, it costs way more than what the initial treatments would have been.

This is just one example of how workers compensation is a fallacy. I have heard far worse stories. And I have only touched the tip of the iceberg on what myofascial pain is all about. It is a more accepted condition these days, very hard to diagnose and many doctors pooh pooh it still.  Wikipedia has a very short entry. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myofascial_pain_syndrome  And should you have a workplace injury that brings on this condition, you can expect workers compensation to not compensate, to not help you get better, and like many other injured workers, leave you out in the cold.

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Freakin’ Winter Wonderland Update

On Friday night I decided to completely close my bedroom window. It tends to be the warmest room in the house and although I like my climes warm I like to sleep slightly cool. So I usually have my window open a crack throughout the year. It got frikkin freezing enough on Friday that I closed it.

Or tried to. But the wood is warped with the cold. All that west coast moisture that seeps into everything has now expanded as it turned to ice and I could only, mostly, close the window. Likewise, I could only partly open the door under our front stairs where the garbage is stored. Luckily it was enough to get my head and arm in to toss the offending scraps.

This morning (Saturday though technically it’s 12:10 am) I washed my face and put clothes in the washer. All good, but when I went to rinse dishes in the kitchen there was no hot water. Not just water that’s gone cold but no water period, though I had the cold water well enough. My earlier fear of pipes freezing had come true.

My landlord and I put a heater in the cupboard and I walked up to the drive to meet a client and do some shopping. I now have a new appreciation for what it was like living on the farm in the 1900s and having to pile wood on the stove. You’d wear tights and socks and shirts and sweaters, and shawls, piling layer on layer to just keep warm. No care to how weirdly street person like you look.

If I’d been a guy, by the end of my walk today I would have been a woman because the proverbial brass balls had fallen off the monkey. I walked so quickly (uphill) to the Drive that I sweated and pulled off my cat paw mitts, unbuttoned the top button of my melton wool coat and loosened my woven silk scarf. I kept my hat on my head but when I met my client I took off my coat, unbuttoned the sweater and took off the hat.

By the end of the meeting, before we had even left I was putting on my hat, then buttoning my sweater, then putting on my coat. The sweat had cooled on my body by the time I walked to the bank, then to the post office. Not too bad…bearable if not freezing. But then I walked down to the market, carrying the parcel and the two bottles of wine from the liquor store (it may be an economic downturn but you can’t tell from the empty shelves in the store…or maybe you can). I bought veggies and began the trek home. Two blocks and my right foot was completely numb with cold.

Not to mention I’d been cold in the liquour store and never warmed up. I stopped in the chocolate store, partially to thaw. My foot was hurting by then. But I didn’t mind the wait in the store. I depopsiclized. I got home and it was positively balmy in comparison. And hooray, the water was working again.

Tonight I drove to a friend’s yule party in New West. Fine weather but freakin’ freezing. I left at 8:30 to go to a party in Kits and it had warmed up enought to not need mitts in the car. I picked up my friends along the way and we were there by about 9:15. Just as it began to snow. That’s snow on top of snow and ice, with below freezing temperatures, that we’ve had for a week, in Vancouver. Where it never or just barely every snows!

Guess what? Coldest day ever! in one hundred years! That means since they start recording temperatures and I guess hell has frozen over because this sure feels like hell. So now it’s 12:20. I made reasonably good time though all, and I mean ALL the roads are coated with snow. Anyone driving had windows covered with snow because it was falling faster than a heater could melt it. But I made it without incident.

Hunkered down. Grinchly grumpy about the stuff I moved away from Alberta to avoid. Sad that I won’t be making it to my friend’s memorial tomorrow because I won’t be able to get through the snow. But grateful we’re whole and we all made it in one piece and that everyone was driving sanely.

Addendum: It’s Sunday noon, and it’s still snowing! There must be a foot by now and no end in site. I didn’t order this. Waaaaaah!

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